A committee established by the US National Research Council has recommended conducting more research on the potential health effects of exposure to radio frequency (RF) energy that emanates from wireless devices like cell phones, laptops and hand-held Web-surfing gadgets.
The committee, chaired by Professor Frank Barnes of the University of Colorado at Boulder, has made this recommendation in a 66-page report that it handed over to the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy in Washington, D.C. earlier this week.
"This is a very, very complex issue. Obviously we are not seeing immediate short-term effects of such exposure, like people dropping dead on their cell phones. But in the long term -- 10, 20 and 30 years out -- we have a lot less information about potential effects from these types of wireless devices," says Barnes, a distinguished professor in the electrical and computer engineering department.
The committee's report suggests that future studies pay special attention to the effects of RF energy on children, adolescents, pregnant women and foetuses from exposure to hand-held devices as well as base-station antennas that transmit such signals.
It says that, though it is not known whether children are more susceptible, they may conceivably be at greater risk because of their developing tissue and organ systems.
Barnes admits that several researchers have conducted studies targeting RF energy radiation on the human head from cell phone antennas held against the ear.
He, however, points out that some newer cell phones and Web-surfing devices have antennas in proximity to other body regions like the waist, a factor that warrants more study.
A number of studies, according to Barnes, have also shown a steep increase in mobile phone use by children, ensuring that younger generations will experience much longer periods of RF exposure.
"The fact that some cancers have a 10-to-20-year latency period make these broad, long-term studies potentially important," he says.
Barnes says that the health effects of RF on the human body is a very controversial topic.
"There are a whole lot of studies that do not show any health effects from RF, and a few studies that do show some effects," he adds.
While some studies show "perturbed growth effects" in cells as a result of these frequencies, others have shown that therapies using electromagnetic frequencies can facilitate bone healing, he says.
"We don't live in a risk-free world. People take risks every day by driving, skiing and riding bicycles. In many ways, the risk people are willing to take is more of a question for philosophy than for science," Barnes says.